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Correction Officer Shortages Lead to Crises in Prisons

Posted by Steve Karimi | Aug 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

It is a solemn fact that all across the country, prisons are overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. Since the 1990s when the country adopted a tough-on-crime approach to law enforcement and sentencing, the number of people incarcerated has skyrocketed. This has led to unsafe and deadly conditions for both inmates and the staff who work in prisons.

South Mississippi Correctional Institution's Staff Shortage

It is a problem across the country, but some recent stories have highlighted the issue of understaffing at prisons and what that leads to as far as conditions on the inside. A recent report by ProPublica investigated conditions at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SCMI) in Leakesville, Mississippi. The facility opened as a minimum-security prison in 1990, and back then, inmates participated in work programs around town like picking blueberries and painting schools.

But in 2010, another prison in Mississippi shut down one of its units that was plagued by violence and sent some of its most dangerous inmates to SCMI. The SCMI facility, which originally had 516 beds, now houses 3,051 inmates, and the inmate to correctional officer ratio is 23:1 (the highest in the state). Half of the correctional officer (CO) positions at SCMI are empty, and the prisoners know it.

The lack of security led the Mississippi Department of Corrections to cancel visitations and other privileges in January 2019. Now, prisoner gangs are running the entire facility, and cases of inmates being beaten, set on fire, and assaults on COs are common.

Veteran COs have seen the rise in violence and decided to retire or quit before they are hurt by inmates, and hiring new COs is a challenge due to the poor salaries. A beginning salary is $12.33/hour, and a raise in pay did not pass the Mississippi legislature this year.

King County Correctional Officer Shortage

In King County alone, there is a severe shortage of correctional officers at prisons and jails, and it is not a new problem. When King County Jail opened in 1986, staffing issues led to the county spending $1 million in overtime costs, which threw the county's budget off. And the problem continues: in 2018, King County spent $10.2 million in overtime costs. King County correctional officers worked more than 188,000 hours in overtime in 2018. 

When jail supervisors can't find enough volunteers to work overtime, they will require mandatory overtime from its employees. One correctional officer, Lucy Kemp, worked only four hours of mandatory in 2013, but in 2017 that number spiked to 174 hours. She worries that mandatory overtime will lead to COs making mistakes due to exhaustion, and she says that it's creating unsafe conditions in King County jails.

Defense Attorney Steve Karimi

If you have been charged with a crime in King County, you need an experienced defense attorney who will fight for your rights and keep you out of the King County prison system. Your safety and life depend on a strong defense, and the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can provide that defense. Call 206-621-8777 or fill out a contact form today for a free consultation of your case.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.